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Catholic restaurants regroup during COVID challenge

By Kaelanne Jordan
Twitter: @kaelanne1

Capacity restrictions and physical distancing measures imposed due to COVID-19 has seen many businesses including the food service industry take a hard hit.

Many restaurants, locally and globally have been forced to change their operations and adapt to a new dining experience—from table service to delivery— in a bid to keep their businesses alive.

Catholic News spoke to three local Catholic eateries about how they are adjusting thus far and what the future might hold.

At La Petit Fleur Tea Shop, owner Bernadette Burke said that it has been a very difficult and challenging time. “It meant a total review, a total revisiting of the business model,” she said via WhatsApp.

La Petit Fleur terrace

The lockdown meant no employment for staff and no income. “I must say…I really didn’t see this coming and it was sort of a lesson for me. I internalised this as when Jesus said to us…things are going to happen and these things are going to come upon us ‘like a thief in the night’…we’re not going to be ready.”

But the lockdown also facilitated an opportunity for Burke to grow into a deeper relationship with God. “I just wanted to hear what He was saying to me and I keep praying even now for His guidance, how do I move forward?”

Now that the Government has given the green light to reopen all food establishments with only curbside/take away or delivery, Burke had to “redo” her menu and look for items which would be “attractive” to customers. Burke said that she has also taken into consideration that persons may be questioning ‘How safe is restaurant food?’  This is “a major concern” she said, as well as the fact that consumers are currently monitoring their spending.

Companions of the Transfigured Christ’s (CTC) Kyle Dardaine at Tabor House Bistro said the major loss from COVID-19 is the loss in confidence from interacting with customers. This he linked to the uncertainties, “question marks”, fears and anxieties as to whether the virus can be spread through food.

Even before the official closure of these establishments, the Bistro had seen an almost 55 per cent reduction in sales and visitors to the business even while they were offering curbside and delivery options.

The ‘no in-house dining’ was definitely a “blow” to the business, Dardaine said.

“That was a big part of the business model of our Bistro. We are grappling with it currently. We have not worked out all the issues concerning that but we are working on it,” he said.

He is now tasked with making several physical renovations and changes to certain things in the kitchen and by extension the building to allow for proper social distancing, and other aspects that they did not have to worry about before.

Dardaine said that staff were engaged very early in a process of rethinking the way they did things at the Bistro. This involved being flexible, open, malleable and adaptable.

“We adapted as the first signs of the virus hit Trinidad. Even before the government called for the close, we released changes in our modus operandi same day,” he shared.  Staff were “happy” because it meant they were not only protecting customers but themselves too. “And of course, they were very concerned about being in high contact and high traffic with customers,” he said.

Dardaine told Catholic News he held a staff meeting to give the assurance that during the time of closure, they would be supported in various ways.

“And we did exactly that during the time of closure. So, we took care of our staff constantly. We were in touch with them all the time, so we made sure that at least their immediate needs were being met for essentials, supplies and food,” he said.

At the Living Water Community (LWC) Café, Suzanne Dowdy said that there has been constant sanitising, “wiping every door handle”, every table and door knob.

The café now only offers curbside so customers are not allowed to enter the building.

LWC Building

“You call in your order…And then you come and drive around to the back of the building and you pick it up, and we have people who will hand you your meal and the cash register is there. Little as possible human interaction in that respect ,” she explained.

Dowdy said that prior to COVID-19, all staff wore masks, hair nets, aprons, but now, there are sinks installed at various entrances of the building. There are temperature checks for persons who come to work, and the information is recorded. “

“And then of course there is the actual social distancing within the kitchen…we can only have a certain number of persons in the kitchen and in the centre,” she said.

Dowdy explained that before COVID-19, there was no delivery or drive-through option. She added that the business had seen “certainly much less” sales since the restrictions.